The Panthers looked flat for a half but they corrected their issues and defeated the Detroit Titans by a 74-61 score to move to 7-1 on the season.
“We obviously didn’t play well enough in the first half,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “They came out and made some threes. That’s exactly what we talked about not letting them do. They hit six to start the game. We did a better job in the second half. We attacked the zone better in the second half. I’ve said in the past weeks that we’re not good enough against the zone, but most teams aren’t. We’re going to get better at it and we did in the second half.”
“Shot 64 percent in the second half and only four turnovers, so it certainly signifies a better job. Better ball reversals and getting in the lane. Our big guys are struggling right now against the zone. I’ve got to do a better job coaching it and getting them in the right place and understanding what we’re trying to do. That’s something that I know and am well aware of. We’re going to work on that hard. 18 assists and 11 turnovers. Did a great job against a very good team.”
“Their point guard is one of the best in the country. He got going early and we did a much better job against him in the second half. Some good things we can point to are second half we outscored them by 21. We got outscored by eight in the first, but I guess it’s better to have a good second half than a good first half. We learned and we got better and we did a better job attacking the zone. We’ll see if we can continue to do that and do it for 40 minutes.”
The home team got off to a good start that could have been even better. Talib Zanna converted one free throw but missed the second and upon missing the second one had some miscommunications with Steven Adams that prevented a likely basket. On the next possession down, Adams made a layup and that was followed by James Robinson finding Zanna to give the Panthers a 5-0 lead. Zanna would then miss on a dunk attempt and Lamar Patterson split free throws.
Meanwhile it took nearly until the first media timeout of the game for Detroit to score let alone hit the rim. Those points were scored on a layup from Ray McCallum who then added a deep 3-pointer.
Detroit went on a run coming out of the media timeout and it was capped off by an emphatic dunk from McCallum to Doug Anderson that forced Jamie Dixon to use a timeout. At that point, the Panthers trailed 12-8.
The lead extended as McCallum found his groove and the lead extended.
The officiating let the players play a lot and some of the no-calls confused the Panthers and upset their fans. Most notably there was a play where Robinson took it hard to the hoop had contact, fell and no call was made.
As the first half drew closer to its conclusion, Tray Woodall drilled three treys and the score was cut to 29-26.
McCallum responded making it 33-26, but Durand Johnson would make a three to keep the Panthers in range.
At the half, Detroit led 37-29 over the Panthers. The Titans were led by McCallum who had 17 points in the half. Woodall just by himself kept the Panthers in the game with his 11 points. The Titans shot 47.6 percent while the host Panthers shot 35.7 – a number that slowly improved as the half dragged on.
The Panthers came out strong to open the second half. Cameron Wright drilled a quick lay-up. On the next possession, Patterson made a midrange two and finally Patterson made a pass to Wright on the fast break for another layup cutting the Detroit lead to 37-35 and forcing a timeout.
After a lot of inactivity, Zanna made two free throws to tie the game at 37 with 14:19 remaining in regulation.
With just over 12 minutes left, the Panthers retook the lead on another Woodall three – a 42-41 advantage.
Coming out of the media timeout, that lead extended as Johnson connected on another triple electrifying the crowd once again.
With the score remaining close, Robinson hit a close range shot to give the Panthers a 51-49 lead. Zanna then made two free throws to put himself into double figures and immediately followed with a dunk to extend the advantage to six points.
Robinson then added to the lead with a two and a wide open three and a timeout was called with the Panthers on top 60-51.
Zanna provided the exclamation points when he made a big block and then sprinted down the other end of the floor, get the ball and somehow put a shot up despite a foul. The shot went in and Zanna converted the free throw and in doing so stretched the lead to 63-51.
A big key to the Panthers comeback was shutting down McCallum in the second half and that was what they did, limiting him to seven points and 24 overall.
The Panthers victory will give them an extra boost as they prepare for the City Game against Duquesne Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Consol Energy Center.
It was an emotional Jamie Dixon to open the press conference as he reflected on the death of college basketball coaching legend Rick Majerus:
“I just saw on the ticker about Coach (Rick) Majerus (passing away) and that’s the first I heard about it. I don’t know what else to say, but I think everyone knows how much he’s meant to Ben (Howland) and I in coaching. Pretty much everything we do is based on his coaching. That’s a tough one. I knew he wasn’t doing well, but it was tough to hear.”
I asked James Robinson about C.J. McCollum and Ray McCallum two players projected to be taken in the draft and how he contained them and this was his response:
“It’s kind of easy for me just knowing that I have four other guys that have my back. We tried to put up a wall as much as we could tonight and stop the penetration, but obviously (McCallum) hit some tough shots.”
Lastly, I asked Dixon about Lamar Patterson. It is a known fact that Patterson could not put a complete game together but his 12-point, seven-assist [and one turnover] performance seemed his most complete of the season.
“He was good against the zone, and he was the guy getting into the lane at the end of the second half. He’s played very well in practice, he’s more patient and not looking for that homerun pass. He’s defending better, needs to improve, we all need to improve. He’s rebounding good but for whatever reason we’re still not where we need to be.”